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‘Routine duties’ net $2M worth of coke

The stash was found in the center console of a 23-foot Intrepid

The stash was found in the center console of a 23-foot Intrepid

Officer Ken Norris says it was mostly by luck that he stumbled onto a $2 million cocaine stash as it came into Florida on a 23-foot Intrepid center console.

Norris, a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation officer and 23-year veteran of marine policing, was headed out to the ocean on routine patrol when he met the white Intrepid with two men aboard. It was coming into the inlet at Boynton Beach in Palm BeachCounty.

“They just eyeballed me real hard,” Norris says. “It was like a stare-down, which usually doesn’t happen.”

The ocean was rough that Jan. 10 afternoon, and this was the first boat Norris saw coming into the inlet. He decided to stop the Intrepid for a routine fishing and safety inspection. But Boynton Beach’s inlet is a difficult one to run, so Norris didn’t turn around until he reached the ocean. As he motored back in, the Intrepid crossed the Intracoastal Waterway to a public boat ramp.

Dressed in street clothes, the two men tied up to the floating dock there and walked away from the boat, one of them talking on a cell phone. Norris tied his patrol boat to the same dock and strolled by the center console. Its windshield was encrusted with salt as if it had been on a long passage, and it carried a plastic barrel presumably for extra fuel.

The men by now were walking more quickly through the parking lot toward U.S. 1, and Norris was pretty sure something was fishy. “They were very nonchalant,” he says. “They looked over their shoulder every once in a while and just kept walking.”

He called Boynton Beach police to send backup to cut the men off at U.S. 1, but about that time a white pickup truck towing a trailer appeared “out of nowhere,” picked the pair up and headed north on U.S. 1, eluding city police closing in from the south.

“They were going to pick the boat up there and take it,” Norris says. “That’s what we think.” Norris evidently upset their plans.

A Boynton Beach police K-9, a German shepherd named Caeser, sniffed around the boat and alerted his handler to the console. When Customs agents opened the console panel, they found three black duffel bags filled with blocks of cocaine. The cocaine weighed in at 220 pounds, an estimated $2 million worth. It was FWC’s biggest drug bust in recent years, says Major Brett Norton, FWC south regional commander. “That’s a lot of cocaine.”

Norton says U.S. Customs and the Drug Enforcement Administration were continuing to investigate. The Intrepid appeared to have been registered to a fictitious person. The federal government seized the boat and sought a court order to forfeit its ownership.

Norton says the FWC, always short of funding and boats, hoped to become the Intrepid’s new owner by June 1. “We’d like to put an officer in it, as bad a shape as our boats are in right now,” he says.

FWC assists boaters and enforces fishing and boating laws. However, Boynton Beach is 56 miles from the Bahamas — an easy run for smugglers — so from time to time officers do happen upon traffickers in illegal drugs or migrants, Norton says. “The officer was out there doing his routine duties and turned it into a dope case,” he says.

“It made my day, I’ll tell you that,” Norris says.